PUBLIC health experts have called for a crackdown on websites that promote ''ridiculously cheap'' alcohol, claiming they fuel Australia's drinking problem and appeal to under-age drinkers.
Group buying sites - which offer daily deals on meals, beauty treatments and household products - are increasingly emailing members with offers of up to 70 per cent discount on booze bought in bulk.
Recent offers include an Our Deal promotion knocking $140 off the recommended retail price of a dozen bottles of wine and a bottle of whisky, and a LivingSocial offer of a case of wine for $59 - less than $5 a bottle.
Catch of the Day's Vinomofo discounted wine site has been criticised for using a trade name that directly appeals to young people, and for an ''irresponsible'' competition in which entrants could win a Mini full of wine.
While supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have previously come under fire for heavily discounting alcohol, health experts say online traders are selling it even more cheaply but are flying under the radar.
''The big retailers have to pay distribution costs, marketing costs and retail staff costs, and that's the thing that protects us from these ridiculously low prices on alcohol. But these costs don't exist for online providers so they can charge whatever they like,'' said alcohol campaigner Sandra Jones, director of the University of Wollongong's Centre for Health Initiatives. ''If we had a minimum price for alcohol it would address this problem because they wouldn't be able to sell below a set cost.''
Australia's National Preventive Health Agency is investigating a floor price for alcohol as a measure to curb problem drinking, with recommendations to be delivered to the federal government next year.
Research shows that price and availability are two of the main drivers of problem drinking. Professor Jones said online sites offering home delivery made it easier for minors to access alcohol as members usually only have to tick a box to say they are 18, and can pay with a Paypal account.
And while most group buying sites say proof of age may be required for delivery, Professor Jones said it was not clear how strictly this was enforced.
In 2009, Victoria's director of Liquor Licensing ordered Coles and Woolworths to tighten controls on their internet alcohol sales after a Sunday Age investigation revealed how easy it was for minors to buy booze online, with couriers often not checking for ID on delivery.
Our Deal did not respond to requests for comment, and nobody at LivingSocial was available for comment.
Andre Eikmeier, founder of Vinomofo, said under-age and problem drinking was a ''valid social concern, which all direct marketers of alcohol need to be keenly aware of''. However, he said his site was more targeted towards the ''wine nerd'' and their core demographic was the 35-55 age group.
''A $40 Shiraz down to $20 isn't really promoting irresponsible drinking, so much as responsible spending. We don't really market to the Ready-To-Drink market, or the cask wine market, and from what I hear and see, that's more the area of concern with irresponsible drinking,'' he said.
He said wine could not be delivered to an unattended address nor collected by a minor.